The Message of Julian of Norwich
“[God] did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed…But He did say ‘You shall not be overcome.’ God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both in sorrow and in joy.”
She was a medieval English anchoress of a convent tucked away in East Anglia, far from London’s busy streets. But Julian of Norwich has a message for today’s Catholics: “[God] did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed…But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’ God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both is sorrow and in joy.” As many of us are having our comfortable faith tested by today’s climate, I believe a revisit of Julian’s teaching may be in order.
Julian lived in the 1300s in Norwich and served as an Anchoress, which effectively meant that she never left her room attached to the church. There, she wrote the first book in English by a woman, an account of the “showings” she claimed to have received from Christ in 1373. Although a cult (a group of followers who are devoted to her cause for sainthood) developed around her and she is called “Blessed Juliana,” she has never been canonized.
According to Julian, her visions came about at the end of a severe illness which she actually asked God to send her. Seeing it as a way to physically participate in the sufferings of Christ and hoping to better understand God’s love, she begged God to bestow on her a year of special suffering when she was 30, the same age when He began His ministry.
Julian received a series of fifteen visions of the suffering of Christ and immediately after wrote them down in a short text. Many years later, after contemplating them and praying over their possible meaning, she wrote a much longer text, The Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman.
The visions, centering on the Passion and death of Christ, and indeed her whole text can be best summed up in one word: love.
As Julian said, “Know it well, love was His meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did He reveal to you? Love. Why does He reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same.”
In sharing Christ’s suffering, Julian was able to more fully understand God’s love for the world. Hers is a lesson that should be taught: to understand love we must understand suffering.
If we understand these things, then we will also understand her wisdom in saying “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”
Bridget Green is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and writer who is obsessed with the lives of the saints and checking closets for Narnia. She lives with her husband and their six children in her hometown of Newark, NJ, where she chronicles their lives in her personal blog, Life at Le. Rheims, and contributes weekly to Truth and Charity.